Mi'kmaq name Skmaqn added to P.E.I. national historic site

The Port-la-Joye—Fort Amherst National Historic Site will be renamed Skmaqn—Port-la-Joye—Fort Amherst National Historic Site of Canada, which includes the historic name given to the site by the Mi'kmaq.

Site to be known as Skmaqn—Port-la-Joye—Fort Amherst National Historic Site of Canada

The Port-la-Joye—Fort Amherst National Historic Site in P.E.I. is being renamed to include Skmaqn in honour of its Indigenous history. (CBC)

A Mi'kmaq name will be added to the Port-la-Joye—Fort Amherst national historic site in P.E.I., recognizing the traditional name for the site and its Indigenous history.

The site will be renamed Skmaqn—Port-la-Joye—Fort Amherst National Historic Site of Canada, said Minister of the Environment Catherine McKenna.

Skmaqn, pronounced Ska-MAA-kin, means "the waiting place." It is thought to have its origins in the years 1725 to 1758 when the Mi'kmaq of Epekwitk and French leaders met annually at the site to renew their relationship and military alliance and would have to wait for the French leaders to arrive from Cape Breton, N.S.

Skmaqn, pronounced Ska-MAA-kin, means 'the waiting place.' (CBC)

"This is an important site for Mi'kmaq history and for the Mi'kmaq community," Abegweit First Nation Chief Brian Francis said in a news release.

"We are pleased that the name will now better reflect the complex history of the site, including its Indigenous history."

The Mi'kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I. said it also looks forward to improving the presentation of Indigenous history at the site.

'A really good thing'

Matilda Ramjattan, chief of Lennox Island First Nation, is pleased the Mi'kmaq name will be first.

"It shows that the Mi'kmaq were here, we've been here for thousands of years and I think it's a really good thing," she said.

Matilda Ramjattan, the Chief of the Lennox Island First nation, says she welcomes the name change and calls it a 'good news story.' (Pat Martel/CBC)

"We want to ensure that our full history is told, the good, the bad and the ugly.

"Skmaqn, the waiting place, it begs the question why Sqmaqn? Why is it called that? So then people will start to think about what is the history, who were they waiting for?"

Controversial history

The site came under scrutiny in recent years following a re-examination of Jeffery Amherst, who the fort was named after. Mi'kmaq elders have raised questions about honouring Amherst, arguing he was an enemy of Indigenous people.

Scholars had debated Amherst's actions during his service until evidence was found he advocated the use of biological warfare, through smallpox blankets, to kill Indigenous peoples.

Keptin John Joe Sark, a Mi'kmaq elder who has been advocating for years to remove Amherst's name from the site, was not pleased with the decision to keep the original name in addition to the Mi'kmaq name.

Keptin John Joe Sark says he doesn't agree with keeping the original name of the historic site in addition to the Mi'kmaq name. (Randy McAndrew/CBC News)

"I think it's an insult and a disgrace to have a Mi'kmaq name sitting beside Gen. Amherst's name because Gen. Amherst's main intent was to exterminate the Indigenous people," he said.

But Chief Ramjattan said she didn't want the Amherst name to be removed because she wants the full history to be known and remembered.

"I don't like to see it called Fort Amherst solely but I don't want to lose that piece of history either because if we erase that piece of history we may be doomed to repeat history and I don't want that," she said.

Extensive consultations

P.E.I.'s representative on the national historic site board, Harry Holman, said the board had been considering the issue for over five years and is reviewing all the sites under its purview in the country to see if naming, signage or information should be updated to better reflect Indigenous history.

Harry Holman, P.E.I.'s representative on the national historic sites board, says the inclusion of the Mi'kmaq name for the Port-La-Joye-Fort Amherst site is a step forward for reconciliation. (CBC)

The name for the site came from the Mi'kmaq Confederacy, he said, and has "great meaning" for both Indigenous peoples and the Acadian community. Holman noted the process involved extensive research and consultations with Indigenous people.

"They did a great deal of the leg work and I think they deserve a great deal of the credit for coming to a solution," he said. "We think it's a tremendous step forward in terms of reconciliation."